A Good Sign, the Maltese Cross

BY BOBBY HALTON

I recently read an article that credited a fire chief with a very specific quote. Then I read somewhere else that the quote had been attributed to another chief. Regardless, it still is a very good quote. When we boil it all down, it is the usefulness of the quote that matters, not who said it first.

In the fire service, useful things—worthwhile things—do not need any push to get us to use them. Given an opportunity, firefighters will steal anything useful, improve it, and make it their own. I don’t think the guy who started “do unto others” ever got any gold for coming up with the golden rule, but I know he would be happy that we get it.

The opposite is true of bad ideas: You know an idea is a “dog” when they have to threaten to take away your birthday if you don’t follow it or refuse to do it. Generally, these ideas have some ulterior motive like money, or a controlling bully or bully-type organization owns them. These bad, useless ideas are generally followed in name only or on paper but are not accepted in practice. Thankfully, common sense usually wins out and, over time, the bad ideas just quietly go away.

I got to thinking about this as I witnessed the grassroots efforts of some world-class firefighters in Florida who are celebrating the passing of landmark legislation concerning a building marking system. The legislation is named in honor of two firefighters who died in 1989 at a gift shop fire in Orange County; the bill is called the “Todd Aldridge-Mark Benge Firefighter Safety Act.”

The object of the Florida legislation is to identify lightweight roof or floor trusses in commercial, industrial, and multiunit residential structures by having some kind of highly visible marking system. The markers are being called “building information signs.”

The fire service has an opportunity to capitalize on this effort and must do so collectively for the good of those we serve. This building marking system idea, which began in New Jersey after the 1988 Hackensack Ford fire and then was adopted in New York, is moving faster than a brush fire in a 20-mile-per-hour wind. The interesting thing about Florida is that the concept was adopted prior to adopting a standard marker or standardized marking system. That may prove to be one of those random occurrences that bodes better than anyone could have planned for.

The concept of standardization is not one I embrace universally for all fire service matters, but in this case it makes perfect sense. Just like our Department of Transportation (DOT) placard system and our 704 marking system, this is an idea that must be nationally implemented and consistently used.

The building information sign concept ties in neatly to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1620, Standard for Preincident Planning; its Recommended Practice (2003) is currently under review and is being developed as a standard. NFPA 1620 is a standard all fire departments should embrace and implement. This standard is connected to our heritage of readiness and vigilance. These signs can support our fireground awareness and tactical decision making.

Currently, the building information sign idea is coming up for a final action hearing and vote at the International Code Council (ICC) 2008 Annual Conference, to be held September 14-23 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The DeCrane-Grundahl-Murphy F-75 proposal offers the fire service the most comprehensive and useful design for a building information marking system, including a section for tactical considerations.

The building information sign is in the shape of a Maltese Cross, the eternal symbol of our heritage and mission and one we all quickly identify with and recognize. The sign will contain within the wings of the cross the construction type, content hazards, fire protection systems, and occupancy type. In the center, tactical considerations and additional information will be identified. The sign will provide initial-arriving companies with information critical to making tactical fireground decisions. The first-arriving fire units have many decisions to make, and information such as the types of roof and floor assemblies is key to understanding the best options for handline advance and ventilation operations.

The building information sign is not the only important vote happening at the ICC code hearings. Two other votes are of critical importance to the fire service. First is a one- and two-family residential sprinkler proposal that Fire Engineering resoundingly supports. It faces stiff opposition, so we desperately need your presence to fight again for this long-awaited advancement.

The lesser-known vote is on the 30-minute structural floor and ceiling fire resistance protection proposal. This proposal calls for a 30-minute protection system on floors and ceilings. It will more than likely involve intumescent paint or some type of sprayed-on fire protection. We need this, as the incidence of firefighters falling through burned-through, unprotected floors and roofs is steadily increasing.

We must recognize that it is not just lightweight materials that are of concern. The protection will be required on all combustible surfaces we depend on to complete our work. It would be a really good idea to be in Minneapolis on September 14-23. Like all good fire service ideas, these are useful, and your participation is needed.

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